Ford Focus ST TDCi Estate v Volkswagen Golf GTD Estate - performance estates compared
Two performance estates with a nod to economy. But which is the better drive?
It has taken VW five generations of Golf Estate to bring a performance wagon to the range (the designers only received orders to make space for the dog from the Mk3 on) but now it has two – the Volkswagen Golf R Estate and this, the GTD. Think of it as a pseudo-GTI wagon with a 2-litre turbodiesel in place of the turbocharged petrol engine. So, it produces less power than a GTI (181bhp against 217) but a bit more torque (280lb ft plays 258).
So why did VW not slip the GTI’s petrol engine into the Mk7 Golf Estate’s body and deliver us a hot tourer with the most famous hot hatch badge on its tailgate? Because the GTD hatch outsells the GTI three to one. It was a no-brainer.
As with the GTD hatch, the wagon gets GTI front and rear bumpers, deeper side sills and 18-inch alloys as standard. Inside there is tartan trim for the seats and a golf-ball-inspired gearlever (this car is manual, but a six-speed DSG is also available). Mechanically it’s identical to the hatch, complete with the XDS+ electronic software that does a good impression of a limited-slip diff by nipping the brakes of whichever wheel is on the inside of the corner. It’s no Golf R, but the GTD is a good step above its BlueMotion siblings.
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It also has a direct rival in the shape of the Focus ST, Ford’s first hot diesel estate. This is evo’s Fast Fleet ST-3 version, which means it has every bell and whistle available. It is mechanically standard, however, which means there’s a 2-litre turbodiesel four with 182bhp and 295lb ft delivered through a six-speed manual gearbox to the front wheels. The Ford also wears the full battle dress of its petrol hot hatch and estate brethren (yes, there’s a petrol ST estate, too) and you don’t need me to tell you which looks the more overtly sporting of the two.
Where the VW is subtle and perhaps tries a little too hard to be understated, the Ford is in your face with its Aston Martin-esque chin and centre-exit exhaust. Inside, it even comes with a tight-fitting pair of leather-finished Recaro seats.
If you’ve driven any Golf GTI from the Mk5 onwards, from behind the wheel the GTD Estate could come across as an imposter. The visual cues may be there, but it doesn’t take long to conclude that not all of the GTI spirit has made it across (less so, in fact, than in the GTD hatchback).
It’s certainly a step up from a regular Golf diesel estate, however, and the contact points do their best to remind you where your £28,000 went. And yet the performance doesn’t entice you to summon up everything on offer. This car covers ground more quickly than a regular Golf Estate – the surge of torque is spread evenly across the rev range so you’re not constantly throwing gears at it, and if you don’t ask too many questions of the platform it will feed back all you need to know to maintain pace – but that’s all really. It delivers 20 per cent more than you’d expect of a diesel Golf with an additional 225 litres of luggage space. At no time do your senses detect the delights associated with the petrol-powered GTI.
Unlike the Focus’s steering, which buzzes with enthusiasm and vigour, the Golf’s seems mute. The Ford at least lets you sense the grip-level build across the front tyres before peeling into understeer. Indeed, the Focus is the more direct and precise of the two, although it does become increasingly ragged the closer to the edge you get. The Ford is also more organic and natural in how it drives at speed, tightening its line in a seamless transition should you need to lift out of the throttle sharply, whereas the VW is more artificial – it remains in control but you feel a step removed from the process. The GTD performs to the standard expected of many who will experience it, but the Ford’s chassis is better tuned and more composed, and is one that encourages you more.
The Golf GTD fights back with a more refined powertrain; one that sounds less like a diesel and is both smoother and has a more linear power delivery than the Ford’s. The Focus’s is quicker to rev and requires more gears more frequently, although at times it doesn’t feel any quicker because of it. Of the two, the Ford’s gearshift is the more precise.
Ultimately, the Golf GTD never feels more than a sport-inspired Golf, which is perhaps down to one’s expectations being higher because of the bar set by its GTI cousin. It’s the more upmarket of the two, with a wider appeal in a premium world, but the Focus is closer to its performance aspirations and the better hot diesel estate.